Your Clever Toddler in Week 102: How Your Intentions Provoke Tantrums
What your child learns this week
Your Child’s Brain in Week 102
No surprises here: One of the easiest ways to throw your toddler into a tizzy these days is to offer him something (a toy, a cookie) and then take it away. Even asking your little guy to put down his truck for a moment while you help him put on his coat is enough to warrant a full-blown meltdown.
But there’s a particularly different way that you also might be contributing to the frequency of your child’s tantrums. You know that at this age, your toddler can observe you trying to complete a task, comprehend your intentions, and perform the task correctly himself—even if you weren’t able to. He’s able to assess what you expected would happen, then skillfully work toward that goal.
This helps explain what researchers have determined: That young kids are more likely to throw a tantrum when a person—not a physical barrier or circumstance—is preventing them from reaching a goal. When a child suspects your intentions stand in the way of getting what he wants, the reaction can be explosive!
What the Research Shows
In one experiment, a researcher played a game with nine- to 18-month-olds in which he offered each child toys. Occasionally, the adult held a toy out of the child’s reach. Other times, the experimenter was unable to hand over the toy because it was contained in a sealed transparent box.
Researchers noted that in session after session, the children were more impatient and fussy when the adult willfully kept the toy from the child than when the toy was securely contained—and thereby unreachable—inside the clear plastic box.
Week 102 Brain Booster
Let’s say your toddler sees a leftover cookie on your plate and reaches for it it. But you decide it’s too close to dinner for her to be snacking, so you put the cookie into a cookie jar for the time being. Get ready: Your child will likely begin to whine, perhaps even throw a tantrum. She realizes that you could very well offer the cookie if you wanted to, but that instead you’d decided to keep it out of her reach.
If, several days (and snack sessions) later, your child asks for a cookie and you show him an empty cookie jar, he likely won’t melt down. Why? He’ll likely realize that it’s an impossible situation: You can’t hand him over a cookie when there are none available, so he’ll shrug off the scenario.
Keep in mind that as a parent, you get to decide what your toddler can have access to, be it cookies, grocery-aisle toys, or another stick to throw to the dog. You don’t need to prove physical impossibility in order to deny his requests, and your child won’t suffer irreparable emotional damage from the resulting tantrum. But if there is some physical impossibility involved—torrential rain preventing a trip to the park—point it out: Having this prior knowledge may diffuse a potential tantrum.
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